Louis' Lunch is a petite eatery on Crown Street in New Haven, Connecticut, with a very big claim to fame: It's the birthplace of the hamburger! Louis Lassen opened his first luncheonette in New Haven in 1895.
According to lore, Louis made fast food history in 1900 when a customer who was in a hurry asked for a meal he could take "to go." Thinking on his feet, Lassen slapped a broiled beef patty between two slices of bread, inventing the hamburger.
On the Menu
You'll still find hamburgers on the menu at Louis' Lunch... and not much more. There are plenty of non-alcoholic beverage options, and there's usually potato salad, which is loaded with big chunks of potato and quite good.
Check the blackboard for a selection of homemade pies and other desserts; the blueberry pie is especially good. Tuna sandwiches may be available on Fridays, and soup is on the menu seasonally. Louis' stays open until 2 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and you'll sometimes find late-night menu additions such as hot dogs and steak sandwiches.
A True Original
Of course, most folks wouldn't dream of ordering anything but a burger. While Louis' Lunch has moved twice since 1895, arriving at its current Crown Street location in 1975, one thing that has remained constant is the cast-iron grills used to cook the restaurant's distinctive burgers.
Into the Fire
You'll most likely have to wait in line to place your order, particularly if you visit at a peak time, such as the lunch hour. That will give you plenty of time to observe the hamburger cooking process at Louis' Lunch.
Each burger patty is made from beef ground fresh that day. If you look closely at this picture, you'll see that the hamburgers are positioned vertically inside the grill so that they flame-cook evenly on both sides.
No Buns, No Ketchup, No Whining
Before you visit Louis' Lunch, there are a few things you need to know. For starters, your smoky, juicy, flame-cooked hamburger will be served on toasted white bread, not a bun. Ketchup and mustard are totally taboo because they'd mask the Burger's flavor--don't even think of asking for them. Cheese, tomato, and onions are the only available toppings. If you'd like your burger plain, just order an "original." To add all three toppings, ask for a "cheese works."
It's also important to note that Louis' Lunch does not take credit cards; they accept cash only.
You'll also want to make sure to visit when Louis' is open so that you won't be disappointed. As of 2016, hours are Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from noon until 2 a.m.
The owners, descendants of hamburger inventor Louis Lassen, usually close the restaurant for vacation during the second week of January, the week of Good Friday through Easter Sunday and the entire month of August, reopening the day after Labor Day. To check current hours, call 203-562-5507.
A Famous Hangout
The space inside Louis' Lunch is very cramped, and seating is limited, so most people take their orders to go. If you do manage to find a seat, you'll notice that every inch of tabletop, counter and wooden bench is carved with the initials of those who have enjoyed Louis' hamburgers during the last century.
There's a very good chance that someone even more famous than my daughter once sat in your seat. Louis' Lunch is located just around the corner from Yale University, the alma mater of film and television stars including Jodie Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Claire Danes, Jennifer Connelly, Holly Hunter, and Paul Newman; dozens of Nobel laureates and Pulitzer prize winners; and four of the last seven U.S. presidents.